When political operators uses toxic tactics at work, we need not respond by descending into the pit right alongside them. Responding ethically and with integrity is almost always possible, if we can detect the devious tactics early enough. Here's a collection of fairly widely used political tactics, with some suggestions for ethical, but politically savvy, responses.
- Hit and Run
- When someone moves on from one high profile activity to another while the current effort is still underway, he or she might have knowledge (or suspect) that the current effort is at risk or doomed. Soon afterward, the project implodes, but the operator isn't charged, and often claims that the then-current owners of the activity are at fault.
- If a project in your organization implodes dramatically, just after the departure of its leader or champion, investigate carefully before calling on her or him to rescue the project. Rule out "Hit and Run" before you get hit again.
- The proxy target
- Sometimes an attacker's true target isn't the person who's attacked. Rather, it could be the supervisor or mentor of the person attacked. By attacking the proxy target, the attacker diverts the attention of the true target, and might even harm the true target's reputation.
- When attacked by someone much more powerful than yourself, don't assume that you're the true target. You could be a proxy. The harm done to you might be just as real, but knowing what's actually happening can be extremely helpful in formulating a response.
- Confidential disinformation
- When we confide in one another, the confider usually believes what is confided. That's one reason why we tend to believe what others tell us in confidence. Enhanced credibility explains, in part, why political operators sometimes tell lies — or partial truths — in confidence. And they also gain the protection of secrecy and deniability.
- Don't assume that confiders believe everything they tell you in confidence. Verify and validate when you can.
- The favored subordinate
- Supervisors sometimes designate a favored subordinate who receives extra attention, multiple benefits, and who can seemingly do no wrong. Especially when this designation results from supervisor initiative — that is, when the designee hasn't curried favor — the supervisor has acknowledged and usually accepts the possibility that other subordinates will become resentful or demoralized.
- Whether or not the favored When someone moves on from
one high profile activity to another
while the current effort is still
underway, he or she might know
that the current effort
is at risk or doomedsubordinate has sought special status, it's likely that the supervisor's intentional choice is a signal to other subordinates that they must either accept secondary status, or move on. Because there are rarely any limits to how secondary that secondary status will be, it's probably best to move on. You lose little, though, because the favored position is usually just another form of subordination, maintained only at the price of freedom and dignity.
Detecting these patterns in our own situations can be difficult, because we don't want to find them. Look for them first in the situations others face. When you become adept at spotting them there, examine your own. Top Next Issue
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For more devious political tactics, check out the archive Devious Political Tactics.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part II
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of
- Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
- Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless
use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
- Pariah Professions: I
- In some organizations entire professions are held in low regard. Their members become pariahs to some
people in the rest of the organization. When these conditions prevail, organizational performance suffers.
- Power Affect
- Expressing one's organizational power to others is essential to maintaining it. Expressing power one
does not yet have is just as useful in attaining it.
- The Risks of Humor at Work
- Humor at work can be useful for strengthening relationships, making connections, and defusing tension.
And it can be risky, too. Some risks: irrelevance to the here and now, leaving out the funny, or ambiguous
sarcasm. Read this post for five more risks.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.